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Software Government Politics

Source Control For Bills In Congress? 300

Posted by kdawson
from the real-subversion dept.
grepya writes "An article in Slate talks about the sneaky way a major change in the Patriot Act reauthorization bill was made by (possibly) a Congressional staffer without even his boss knowing about it. (The change increased the power of the Executive at the expense of the other two branches of government.) Now, I write software for a large and complex system containing millions of lines of code and I know that nobody could slip a single line of code into my project without my knowledge. This is because everything that goes into the build goes into a source control system, and email notification is generated to interested parties. This is for a body of work that affects perhaps a few hundred thousand people at most (our company and the combined population of all our customer organizations). Shouldn't the same process be applied to bills being debated in national legislatures that affect potentially hundreds of millions of people?"
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Source Control For Bills In Congress?

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  • alternatively... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @10:52PM (#18258472)
    ... maybe the US Congress should read the bill before they pass it into law.
    • Re:alternatively... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Baricom (763970) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @10:57PM (#18258508)
      Absolutely. I was just discussing this with someone today - if the "readings" in Congress were mandatory and could not be bypassed by consent, we'd have a much better legal system for a variety of reasons - Congressional representatives couldn't claim ignorance, there would be an incentive to keep bills shorter, and an unexpected change would be noticed more readily.
      • by krotkruton (967718) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:09PM (#18258596)
        The use of the word "readings" made me think a bit. When I had to do a reading for the day's discussion in English class in high school (or any other class really), I was held accountable for reading the material, yet Congress members aren't held accountable for reading the material they discuss each day. They may not be completely analogous, but that's pretty messed up when you think about it.
      • by quantaman (517394)

        Absolutely. I was just discussing this with someone today - if the "readings" in Congress were mandatory and could not be bypassed by consent, we'd have a much better legal system for a variety of reasons - Congressional representatives couldn't claim ignorance, there would be an incentive to keep bills shorter, and an unexpected change would be noticed more readily.

        Is it just me or does the idea of a major legislative body just sitting around, listening to someone read what everyone concerned should already know, seem quite wasteful?

        Even if they did do as you say a subtle change snuck in could still slip past because no one is paying attention (as they feel it's a waste of time and the change is subtle). The problem, as the submitter said, is realizing that a handful of words among thousands have just changed. The solution, as the submitter said, is some form of sour

        • by newt0311 (973957) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @01:05AM (#18259212)
          Actually a wasteful system seems like a very good idea. Historically, there is a direct correlation between how oppressive and how efficient a government is. It seems like all governments have an inherent urge to oppress their constituents and that greater inefficiency slows it down. Then again, we all hae to pay for that in terms of taxes so it sucks either way.
          • by quantaman (517394)

            Actually a wasteful system seems like a very good idea. Historically, there is a direct correlation between how oppressive and how efficient a government is. It seems like all governments have an inherent urge to oppress their constituents and that greater inefficiency slows it down. Then again, we all hae to pay for that in terms of taxes so it sucks either way.
            Good point though I don't really think that the US government needs any help being less efficient :)
          • mod parent up! (Score:4, Insightful)

            by cecilgol (977329) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @10:15AM (#18262056) Homepage
            This is the point of having a painfully slow congressional process. Anyone who has ever watched the House debate something on the floor via c-span (or committees online) knows that the time taken to decide anything (*especially to decide that something is worthy of a decision) is outrageous. And that is exactly what the framers had in mind when they established the rules for engaging in Congressional debates.
      • Well, that would be a start, but I still don't think that it obviates the sort of version-control system that the GP is talking about.

        Just think: if you were working on a big software or documentation project, would you want your QA process to involve nothing but some guy standing up and reading the source code out loud? No way -- everyone would be asleep or bored to tears (well, unless it was Perl, then they'd probably be waiting for his face to just fall off).

        There's a reason that change management is a big issue, in addition to peer review and transparency. In fact, they compliment each other. When you can produce a list of what each person has changed, you have a basis for what you want to concentrate your reviewing efforts on.

        Now, change-management isn't a cureall -- anyone in software knows that just because something hasn't changed, doesn't mean it's not buggy. You could change something that causes something that hasn't been changed to break, or you could just discover a bug later; either of those things are possible with laws as well as software. Unless you also have some way of tracking dependencies within the bills (cross references, etc.), it might be possible to "break" the law (make it internally inconsistent) with a minor change somewhere else. So that would still require full readings.

        Still, it's ridiculous that there isn't something in place right now, to prevent some staffer from just sneaking language into a bill that's a surefire pass, without anyone noticing until it gets printed up in the Congressional Record.

        On the whole, maybe Congress needs to hire some QA people? I mean, it's obvious they have a "client satisfaction" (voters) issue, and that the "deliverables" (laws) really suck ... maybe it's because they're pushing half-baked, half-assed stuff out the door to the "users" (citizens)?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by marcosdumay (620877)

          Most bills are already written on as patches, with the authors indentified.

    • Use source control for the whole of congress, not just the bills.

      Oops, seem to have made some bad mistakes voting in some idiots in the last election? No problems just type "cvs update -D 2000-01-01 congress" and get back the congress you had back then.

    • Re:alternatively... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by vyrus128 (747164) <gwillen@nerdnet.org> on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:05PM (#18258564) Homepage
      There are already people who agree with you [downsizedc.org]...
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Version control is just duck tape on a broken pipe. The real problem is that these bills are so unnecessarily long and convoluted that there is no chance a last minute change will be noticed, especially when that last minute change is not open to the public. The Read The Bills Act will require any yes-voter on a bill to read through the bill in its entirety (under penalty of perjury). This will ensure that bills will be short and concise. Furthermore, every bill must be published online for 7 days, uncha
    • by Etherwalk (681268)
      > ... maybe the US Congress should read the bill before they pass it into law.

      Tee-hee! That was modded funny!

      Seriously, though, it doesn't mean anything unless you actually test them on the meaning of the bill as you'd test a student. The equivalent law in the New York State Assembly used to require (as of a few years ago--I don't know if it still does) that the bill phsyically sit on the assemblyperson's desk for two days before it's passed. So they'd print out hundreds of copies of hundreds of pages
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:27PM (#18258696)
      The irony of slashdot telling people to RTFB is black hole massive.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nurb432 (527695)
      Or they can just stop filing each bill with so much garbage to make them so complex.

      Oh, and stop passing so many damned bills...
  • by Rude Turnip (49495) <valuation@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @10:53PM (#18258478)
    They want it to be this way by design.

    • by Kobayashi Maru (721006) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:49PM (#18258812)
      You know, this is a damed good idea. So simple that I just HAVE to look for pitfalls.

      First, I read about something called the Federal Register [wikipedia.org] the other day. As I understand, it is a daily publication of the GPO, responsible for creating a record of public government communication.

      Where does this fit into the equation? Wikipedia says it has been operating since the 1930s. That to me suggests existing infrastructure. Could this program be adopted to handle pending Congressional legislation? Does something similar exist already? Are these even valid questions? I'm trying to get a sense of the public accounting context that exists today.

      Now, once we set up a legislative mechanism to get the information in place, there are practical considerations. I happen to agree with the parent's cynicism. Open government is less corrupt government, and there will surely be resistance to a program like this. What is the likelihood that something like this would be ignored? The aforementioned Wikipedia states that the Register is for public notices not "classified." Do government agencies really bother? Would Congress bother? Would it matter, practically speaking?

      Then there's the question of volume. I understand the current Register is thousands upon thousands of pages. What would be the best way to handle all this data? Pressure our Congressmen to form a committee to look into the possibility of proposing vaguely worded, easily subverted legislation that would create a billion dollar, privacy infringing, twenty-year behemoth of a program? Or dictate simply that the data should be available in a specified format (something akin to a patch) in a timely manner.

      I think the latter would be better, because it would force We the People to take a little responsibility for the program. I mean really, who doesn't think that an enterprising group of dedicated people, working for free in their spare time would work more efficiently than a monstrous bureaucracy? Sound like a familiar Slashdot battle?

      Either someone will rise to the challenge and write a utility to "visualize" the data in an interesting way, or not. If not, I think we have bigger problems than Congressmen not reading their bills.

      Make the data (near) freely available, then leave it up to The People to figure out how to use it. That's my take.
      • Well, it does seem to come out online, and in plaintext format, too.
        http://www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/index.html [gpoaccess.gov]

        There seems to be a way on that site, although I don't really want to try it myself, to sign up to receive the daily Table of Contents via email. That's about as close to `tail -f` as you can get to it, I think.

        The other problem is that I'm not sure the Federal Register carries much that would help you track particular bills as they make their way through the Belly of the Beast -- for that, you'd need t
  • Fat chance (Score:5, Insightful)

    by El Cubano (631386) <robertoNO@SPAMconnexer.com> on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @10:54PM (#18258488) Homepage

    Shouldn't the same process be applied to bills being debated in national legislatures that affect potentially hundreds of millions of people?

    You mentioned getting email notifications about changes to the repository. You work with the code every day (or nearly every day). You see, these representatives in congress often times vote on bills which they have not even themselves read. They get the executive summary.

    That is like the difference between you reading the code for a newly modified parser class and getting one of your underlings to brief you about the changes. You might spend an hour or more reading source code for a whole new class, and only two minutes getting briefed on it. You have to get them actually read the bills first.

    Maybe we should require that all bills be read aloud in their entirety in an open session of congress?

    • Re:Fat chance (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nick_davison (217681) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:15PM (#18258630)
      If people are determined to obfuscate, they'll find a way to.

      You add version control... The first thing they'll do is hire aides to add literally thousands of minute ammendments to every bill for the simple reason that it now becomes impossible to read every minor change log. They may well not sneak anything nefarious in to this bill, the next one or the next ten. Then, one day, fifty bills later, after people have long since given up reading change logs, one of the thousand minor edits will do just what they're currently doing.

      With source control for code, you can monitor what goes in because people are rarely actively trying to sneak anything in. If you do have someone who wants that chance and so starts spamming change logs, you can identify their malicious intent, go to your boss and get them fired. In congress, sadly, they've long since turned a blind eye to such pork barrel [wikipedia.org] behavior and, if they turn a blind eye to it in this form, there's no reason not to expect them to turn a blind eye to it in a future form.

      The original poster's mistake is thinking that congress somehow wants to not be corrupt. Yes, we can force a fix on one form... not that they actually want that fix... but, as the old saying goes, "Where there's a will, there's a way." and a lot of politicians have a very strong will for sneaking in self serving measures.
      • Re:Fat chance (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Albanach (527650) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:39PM (#18258752) Homepage
        I think the point is that while such a change could be slipped in, it couldn't be slipped in anonymously. It'd be interesting if politicians had to take personal ownership of each line of every bill.
        • --Reason: Please use fewer 'junk' characters.Reason: Please use fewer --
          r152892 | subcommittee-5928 | 2007-03-05 22:48:02 -0500 (Mon, 05 Mar 2007) | 2 lines

            * Compromise to end bickering over -r152891

          --Reason: Please use fewer 'junk' characters.Reason: Please use fewer --
          Individual lawmakers do not make changes, afaik.
      • Re:Fat chance (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TubeSteak (669689) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:50PM (#18258818) Journal

        Then, one day, fifty bills later, after people have long since given up reading change logs, one of the thousand minor edits will do just what they're currently doing.
        Make the change log public.

        Even if the watchdog groups don't catch the shenanigans before the bill passes, there will at least be a transparent record of who did what.

        Public accountability has a way of leading to public pressure. A Senator/Congressman will only be able to fire so many aides for sneaking in legislation before the public will say "maybe the problem isn't with the aides."
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I think there are two points you overlook here related to commit privileges.
        First, you don't give commit privileges to interns. The only people with commit privs are actual senators/representatives/PMs. So some lackey can't change things without express authority from their privileged boss.

        Of course, lackeys will still do all the typing and doc prep. Then somebody with access to commit privs will do the final commit without even proofreading it. So you say that everything is same old, same old. But the chan
      • Bill going into a committee? They can work on their own branch, and merge the changes back when they agree on them. Heh, I'd love to be able to run a blame report on something like the dmca or patriot act.
      • by hxnwix (652290)
        But we would still know who to blame for every letter of every bill.

        A lot of politicians have a very strong will for sneaking in self serving measures.
        I'm sorry, but I don't think that we should give in on this one. Our legal corpus should not be polluted with provisions and ammendments so odious as to necessitate furtive & anonymous implantation.
  • Paperless Congress (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Benaiah (851593) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @10:56PM (#18258504)
    Its all done with paper.

    Maybe if some of the politicians passing laws about technology were a bit more tech savvy we wouldn't see any of this. Corruption by camouflage. I bet that even though the changes weren't supposed to be in there. They won't be amended. That would just be silly.
    • by Doppler00 (534739)
      Yeah, let's face it. People in Congress are old and computer illiterate. It's pathetic. This is why government is so inefficient. Anytime I see someone holding a book, a binder, or caring BOXES of freakin' papers into congress. It's just absolutely pathetic. Or even worse, those poster boards they have generated that they yap about on CSPAN, as if powerpoint was too complicated for them.

      I've been trying to convince the people where I work to go digital with all our documents, I even started a wiki for docum
  • Read the Bills Act (Score:5, Insightful)

    by remahl (698283) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @10:56PM (#18258506)
    Make Congress Read the Bills [downsizedc.org]. If they have to sit through a reading, maybe they'll cut down on the length and complexity of the laws. Here, apparently nobody knew what they were passing into law.
  • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @10:57PM (#18258514) Homepage
    This problem should really take care of itself. Just get a staffer to SQL-inject* the necessary clause as a rider for some boring budget stuff that no one will read all the way through, wait for Dubya to sign it, and then pop out and shout p0wned! Then they'll have to build that foolproof system, and we'll be all set.

    *SQL = Staffer Quill Language
  • by istartedi (132515) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @10:58PM (#18258522) Journal

    I once had a conversation with a lawyer friend, who explained that there are portions of the law that refer to laws that have been repealed. I tried to explain to him that in computing this is directly analogous to de-referencing a pointer to memory that's been free()'d. We all know what this does in a program. In law, it perhaps there is a default judgement in cases like this. He was just a law student at the time, and IANAL, so maybe some real lawyers could explain how this situation is handled now.

    • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:06PM (#18258570) Journal
      If we could pass laws/amendments to "sunset" EVERY existing law, then our esteemed representatives could spend their time deciding what laws are important enough to renew, rather than making up new malarkey.
      • by istartedi (132515) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:34PM (#18258726) Journal

        OK, as long as there's somebody to implement an OnSunset() function that notifies the legislature. Otherwise, you could end up with situations where, for example, the meat industry suddenly no longer has to control rodents, and nobody realizes it until they walk into their local KFC and find that all the chicken has been replaced by.... oh... nevermind.

      • Personally I want to see clear use cases and good test coverage. How do they expect to be able to re-factor if they don't know what the current system is actually doing?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MindStalker (22827)
      Yea, if a law overrides another law it states so. Whats really fun is when a law unintentionally contradicts another law without intending to or with any notice :)
    • Fragile base class (Score:4, Interesting)

      by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:21PM (#18258660) Homepage
      Going off on the same tangent, here's an example of a fragile base class [underreported.com]. The Virginia legislature shortened (rather than completely eliminate, as in your malloc() dangling reference example) a list of businesses subject to some exemptions, not realizing that that same list was also used by another law saying which businesses had to be closed on Sundays.
      • by sconeu (64226)
        And just why should the VA Legislature care if businesses are open on Sunday?

        I mean, if it's because it's the Christian Sabbath, it would seem like the First Amendment to the US Constitution (extended to the States via the 14th) applies.
        • The excuse they'd use is that it's an arbitrary one day out of seven to close certain businesses that for the good of the public should not be open every day.

          I feel dirty just for writing that.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Myopic (18616)
      Yes, thankfully laws are more like a high-level scripting language, interpreted inside a sandbox which can heuristically decide how to handle situations where the program logic produces exceptions; we call that sandbox the Court system. In fact the heuristics employ a learning algorithm called stare decisis [wikipedia.org]. Because of stare decisis, the heuristics should become better and better over time, but some rogue hacker keeps hotpatching the system code, causing new exceptions; we call that hacker Congress.

      Shall
  • Don't be silly ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jc42 (318812) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @10:59PM (#18258526) Homepage Journal
    That would make "earmarks" and "pork" very difficult to insert in bills without leaving evidence of who did it. Congress would never allow such things to be audited.

  • Great, then it comes time to merge the HR branch of the bill with the Senate branch. Some overworked staffer sits there clicking 'accept' to all changes without looking at them, then they pass the bill and wait for it to crash to find the inconsistencies.
  • by HaeMaker (221642) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:00PM (#18258532) Homepage
    Courtney Love describes how all recording contracts became "Work for Hire" by a similar process:

    http://archive.salon.com/tech/feature/2000/06/14/l ove/index.html [salon.com]
  • Yeah or maybe... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Rotten168 (104565)
    people shouldn't vote for these fools.
  • Read The Bills Act (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:04PM (#18258552)
    There is another way to look at controlling legislation, IMHO much more important than mere source control:

    A group called DownSizeDC.org is promoting a bill that would force every legislator who votes for a bill to sign a declaration that have either read the entire text of the bill, or had it read to them. The "Read the Bills Act" would also require that every piece of legislation be posted on the Net in its final form for a full 7 days before any vote could occur, giving the rest of us time to read and react...

    There used to be requirements in US House and Senate for reading of the bills, but they both routinely waive that requirement. If it were required, the number and complexitiy of bills actually presented would go down dramatically.
    • by timeOday (582209)

      The "Read the Bills Act" would also require that every piece of legislation be posted on the Net in its final form for a full 7 days before any vote could occur, giving the rest of us time to read and react...
      That makes so much sense, I can't wait to hear how somebody will spin to make it sound like a bad idea.
    • by Asic Eng (193332) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @05:27AM (#18260114)
      Shouldn't be too difficult to have a staffer slip that into a bill.
  • by kad77 (805601)
    We can't Congress to be transparent in the process of who votes for bill revisions such as earmarks or some other types of amendments AFAIK. Try getting those initial steps worked out first (right), then talk about pushing meaningful revision control.

    For them, I'm guessing this idea ranks right up there with allowing more CSPAN cameras, databases on attendance (+other metrics), term limits, etc. If we get a bill addressing this topic, I'm sure it's title will match the concept far more than the content.

    Anot
  • Not needed. (Score:5, Informative)

    by afeinberg (9848) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:08PM (#18258586) Homepage Journal
    Sadly, this is a bit alarmist.

    Bills are already drafted using XML assigned numbers. Any amenment to a bill has its own number, bills which are "engrossed" or passed have a different number. They know exactly what they are voting for.

    http://xml.house.gov/ [house.gov]
    • by TheSync (5291) *
      When I first downloaded the final FY'06 Committee Report on the HHS Appropriation, it was a PDF scanned in from a combination of printed text with considerable handwritten markup.
    • Re:Not needed. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Ignis Flatus (689403) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @02:03AM (#18259432)
      but i don't see anything there that indicates to me that their use of XML constitutes a document control system.

      and another thing, as many are alluding to, a document control system won't prevent the compiling of assinine code. but what it will do is give you a forensics system. it makes people accountable in a way which is easily monitored. if bad legislation is enacted, you can always make amendments, and the dcs will make it easy to highlight exactly what was changed so that you may check it with a minimum of labor at the last minute before voting again. both legislators and congressional aides would have little excuse for their improper actions and inactions.

      now for the bad news. the system relies on computers, and most of your legislators (senators at least, and probably most representatives) are still computer illiterate. their aides aren't, of course, but most of these people just want you to show them the piece of paper to sign, or the yes/no button to push, so that they can get back to their golfing/schmoozing.

      and also, who controls the document control system? it would be necessary to have complete openness so that the googles of the world could record every change as it occured in real time. and for matters of national security, much of the publicly-accessible law would have to be redacted. perhaps something like a checksum for redacted material could be provided to at least ensure that unviewable text hasn't been tampered with.
  • by Creosote (33182) * on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:11PM (#18258602) Homepage
    If all Congressional documents were stored in a Subversion [tigris.org] repository, Homeland Security would positively short-circuit trying to follow up on all of the suspicious emails from young DC residents saying things like "Hey, are you sure the latest pages are committed to Subversion yet?" and "Something just bombed in my sandbox, I'm going to have to nuke everything in sight and do an update!"
    • You talk like paralyzing government would be a bad thing. No one's wallet is safe while Congress is in session. And besides, I think some bills Congress passes can honestly be considered threats to national security....
  • Simply, NO. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Seumas (6865)
    If we shouldn't have any method of auditing votes for who we put into office, why should we have a method for auditing the revisions made to the bills the people we vote into office author?

    As if we can expect people who think global warming and evolution are "completely lacking any evidence" and who believe the internet is a series of tubes to actually understand what version tracking is, anyway!
  • Source control is a good start. But I'd also like to see a more rigorous engineering discipline applied to creating laws. Things like clearly defining the problem, finding the simplest solution that solves that problem, and then testing any changes before releasing them to the world. (MMORPGs might make good test beds for suggested laws. Twilight clauses ought to be used far more often.) And refactoring. Right now, our laws are a series of patches upon patches. ("Law cruft"?)
  • Maybe... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by vozzon (1072664)
    Maybe if we just didn't elect corrupt morons and elected people who actually give a damn about freedom and this country.
  • The current method of producing bills is often like a set of diffs. It says shit like "change USC blah blah to blah blah at line X, word Y." If there were a standard method behind the madness, the common man could simply pass the USC (United States Code) and the bill through a merge engine, and then see the changes as they'd finally look.

    End result? Probably a revolution because the intentions of most Congresscritters, which are profoundly treasonous to the traditions of liberty and patriotism, would be exp
  • Sarbanes Oxley (Score:3, Insightful)

    by unborracho (108756) <[ken.sykora] [at] [gmail.com]> on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:49PM (#18258810) Homepage
    Yeah - it's already required by law for public trading companies - it'scalled Sarbanes-Oxley. Maybe you've heard of it?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarbanes-Oxley_Act [wikipedia.org]
  • Each bill should be introduced, debated on, and amended. When no more amendments or riders are added, the bill should be placed off the table for one week. During this week, the final text of the bill should be published online, giving the public time to review it and question it. After a week, the bill should be re-debated and voted on. This would have an added benefit of making Congress debate a lot more and pass fewer and better laws. Sometimes the solution is just one more level of indirection.
  • I know that nobody could slip a single line of code into my project without my knowledge.
  • by zerrubabul (1050318) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:58PM (#18258860)
    Such things already exist. I know someone who works for a company that makes version control software for documents. Their biggest customers are law firms. Nobody in a fortune 500 company wants some new hire paralegal modifying a clause in a billion dollar contract that it took months to negotiate. Congress people know the system could be made more fool proof but that would remove one more venue of plausible deniability they can use with their constituents. In Washinton crap just doesn't naturally roll down hill, it's designed to do so. Just as "Scooter"...
  • Elegant (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Livius (318358)

    That's one of the most brilliant ideas I've heard in years.

    However, to be successful, it requires that legislators actually *care* what they are voting on. Realistically, they must have something like source control already. Voters have to send them the message that ignorance is no excuse. It's not technology that's holding them back.

    Voting on a bill without reading it, if it can be proved, should result in expulsion. If you sign a contract on behalf of your employer without reading it, you would almost

  • by thedji (561789)
    I can't wait to use this:

    $ svn blame PATRIOT
  • by Secret Rabbit (914973) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @01:45AM (#18259354) Journal
    This is certainly a good idea. It puts responsibility for ideas with those that creates them. Which is probably the reason why this will never be implemented i.e. plausible deniability goes right out the window (at least if the records are made public).

    But, I think that there is another much more practical problem with this. Do we honestly think that people that think the internet is a series of tubes will be able to handle something like CVS?
  • The basic problem here is not source control... Its the sheer volume of text. If a congressman did nothing but read bills that had reached their final form before a vote there still wouldn't be enough hours in the day. And of course, he can't do that; he has to craft bills, participate in committees, interact with citizens and actually spend some time asleep at night too.

    The solution would be to limit congress to something like one typewritten page per day for anything that spends money or has a binding eff
  • Congressmen, as many others here have noted, don't read the bills they vote for. One more sentence isn't going to be read anyway. It's not the text of the bill that being voted on anyway, it's the PR quality of the thirty second soundbite that's being voted on.

    So instead of CVS for congress, we need software that ensures that the bills are actually being read. My idea, which is far too sensible to ever be made into law, is to have speech software recite upon the floor of the House or Senate, the text of the
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @02:29AM (#18259530) Homepage

    First, we're talking about 109th Congress, H.R. 3199, section 502, "INTERIM APPOINTMENT OF UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS." Version control is in Thomas [loc.gov], run by the Library of Congress. (Unfortunately, you can't link to Thomas documents effectively; it's a front end to a non-Web system and the URLs are temporary.)

    So where did that go in? The versions passed by the House and Senate are quite different, and this bill was rewritten in conference committee. This language isn't in either the House or the Senate version. We go to the Bill Summary and Status File, and look under "Amendments". This is the change log for the bill. Nothing about this is in there.

    This change was added in the House-Senate conference committee, which is how stuff like this usually sneaks in.

    The only reference to this change is in the conference committee's report, at House Congressional Record page H1130. The text is:

    Section 502. Interim appointment of United States Attorneys

    Section 502 is a new section and addresses an inconsistency in the appointment process of United States Attorneys.

    That's where it went in. But there's no indication of who put it there. The members of the conference committee were appointed by the Speaker of the House, and they were:

    • Sensenbrenner
    • Coble
    • Smith (TX)
    • Gallegly
    • Chabot
    • Jenkins
    • Lungren, Daniel E.
    • Conyers
    • Berman
    • Boucher
    • Nadler
    • Scott (VA).
    • Hoekstra
    • Wilson (NM)
    • Harman.
    • Norwood
    • Shadegg
    • Dingell.
    • Oxley
    • Bachus
    • Frank (MA)
    • King (NY)
    • Weldon (PA)
    • Lofgren, Zoe

    One of those members of Congress is responsible.

  • Why would the government want to change the system? It's working exactly as they want it to.
  • A solution (Score:3, Funny)

    by dcam (615646) <david.uberconcept@com> on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @03:29PM (#18266772) Homepage
    This is an interesting problem and after thinking about it for some time I've come up with a solution I think will work.

    Kill all of the Bush family, put stakes in their hearts and bury them at crossroads. Burn down all their businesses and spread salt on their farms. Ditto for the Cheney family. You'd probably want to do the same for Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz too just to be safe.

    Wait, what was the question again?

    (note for the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, Police, Secret Service and President Bush: this is a joke)

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